GRAMMAR GEEK GUIDE: Actually… Don’t
Welcome to Grammar Geek Guide, where I’ll be writing about common grammatical mistakes and Filipinisms (English phrases commonly attributed to Filipinos that may be considered incorrect, poorly constructed, or inappropriate, often as a result of mistranslation).
Before anything else, I’d like to stress that I am neither a teacher nor an English degree holder. In fact, a lot of the grammar stuff I’ll be talking about in these posts are most likely going to be things I’ll be learning for the first time. Here’s hoping that the lessons in these blog posts would prove to be just as helpful to you as they are (or will be) to me.
Even the most seasoned speakers sometimes sprinkle well-prepared words with fluffy fillers and ridiculously redundant expressions and extenders. (Damn, I love alliteration.) Unfortunately, instead of the intended effect (to buy time to connect thoughts while sounding smart and/or avoiding dead air), filler words and expressions end up making the speaker look unprepared – or worse, unsure about what they’re saying.
Writers aren’t exactly innocent when it comes to this, either. Sometimes, in order to emphasize a point or add color (or a dash of intelligence) to an otherwise dull sentence, they end up writing more words than they need to. It’s like hiring Ethan Hunt to deliver your Christmas gifts – you think you’re getting your money’s worth, until your best friend calls you to ask why Tom Cruise tore a hole through their roof to hang upside down from his bedroom ceiling.
Here are some of the most common examples:
Q: Can you give me an update on the project?
A: Actually, we’re preparing to launch the product.
When we use the word “actually,” it’s supposed to mean that we’re doing one of three things: introducing a surprising thought, contradicting or clarifying an earlier notion, or revealing the truth behind a lie. If it’s not one of those three, it just sounds like a passive-aggressive jab that makes the listener feel dumb. Oh, and it’s also the easiest way to make you lose credibility. Simply put, an incorrectly used “actually” is the verbal equivalent of flipping the bird.
Can you repeat that again?
Okay, this probably works if you’re asking the person to repeat something that they’d already said a second time. Let’s admit it, though: more often than not, we end up saying “repeat it again,” when what we really want to say is just “repeat.” Drop the “again,” unless you want to let your conversation partner know that you couldn’t hear them properly (or really weren’t paying attention).
I’m currently working right now.
Some may argue that currently and right now mean the same thing. However, choosing which of the two to use depends on what you’re trying to say.
I recommend using currently (which is an adverb) if you’re referring to a state or condition that stays in effect (or has been in effect) for a period of time.
On the other hand, use right now (which is a prepositional phrase) if you are (a) talking about an event that is taking place at present, (b) postmodifying a noun (e.g. if you’re specifically referring to the event that is happening now, not the one yesterday or tomorrow), or (c) as a predicate complement (e.g. “The event is right now.” – saying “The event is currently.” is incorrect).
Thus, you can say that you are either “currently working” (which is more appropriate if you’re talking about employment) or “working right now” (which means you’re doing something and most likely don’t want to be asked any silly questions).
It’s the most unique option.
This one’s a bit tricky. A lot of grammarians would be against modifying absolutes – after all, doesn’t unique mean something that’s one of a kind? How can something be the most one-of-a-kind thing when it can’t be compared to anything else to begin with?
However, unique can also mean “uncommon” or “strange.” As Grammar Girl (one of my favorite sources of answers to all my itching, burning grammar questions) explains, the meaning of the word has been somewhat diluted, partly due to how it has been used in marketing, and mostly due to how language evolves over time (the same reason why “irregardless,” regardless of how stupid, lazy, confused, and incorrect it sounds, is now a word). Still, I agree with Grammar Girl on this one: find a different word to use, not unique, if you want to compare degrees of unusualness.
Last July 5, 2014, I celebrated my birthday with my family.
The word “last” is used to establish a point of reference in time, especially when talking about months or days. When you say “last Monday” or “last July,” you’re talking about the most recent Monday (for example, if today is Wednesday, it’s the Monday of the same week) or most recent July (since I’m writing this in March, I’m referring to last year’s July). Therefore, there’s no need to say “last” before “July 5, 2014,” because “July 5, 2014” is a date that is so specific that it no longer needs any disambiguation.
I’m literally dying here.
“Literally” can either be wrong or just unnecessary.
It’s wrong when you say something that ISN’T meant to be taken in a literal sense – for example, saying “I was literally screaming in my friend’s ear” means that you grabbed your poor friend’s ear, physically stepped into it, and started screaming while inside it. Unless you’re Ant-Man, I think it’s safe to assume that you can’t do that.
99.9% of the time, it’s unnecessary when you just want to emphasize something. All it really does is make your sentence longer than it should be.
Honestly, I don’t know what to say.
To be honest, I don’t know what to say.
This implies that you were actually entertaining the notion to lie, or that everything else you say that isn’t preceded by “honestly” or “to be honest” is a fib. It’s the same as “in my opinion” (since anything you say that isn’t directly quoting anything or stating a fact is, by default, your opinion) – it’s not “wrong” in the strictest sense of the word, but you don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) use it.
You actually read this all the way to the end – thank you! Please feel free to share your grammar-related thoughts and comments below, or send me your burning, itching questions on Facebook.